Colombia’s Minister for Labor Rafael Pardo on Tuesday signed an agreement to end child labor in the country while promoting youth employment in the mining sector, “more youth employment and zero child labor,” said the minister at the signing of the document.

The agreement, which was supported by 50 legal mining companies in the country seeks not only to educate and train the future workers of the sector but to eradicate child labor, which today amounts to 13% of the national employment total. According to the minister 8.6% of child workers are between five and 14-years old, while 27.7% are between 15 and 17-years-old, with 16.6% males and 8.9% females in this sector, reported newspaper El Espectador.

Pardo said that the main intention of the government was to avoid children abandoning their studies to seek a living in tunnels and places unfit for children. The minister also called on 2013 to be the “year against child labor.”

The agreement which will promote the Employment Formalization Law and the Employment Generation Law was signed by the minister along with the director of the Colombian Chamber of Mines, Cesar Diaz and the director of the President’s Colombian Youth program.

The deputy minister of labor relations and inspection David Luna, said that “we want to strengthen not only actions against child labor but also to strengthen specific sectors of education to eliminate cultural barriers that encourage this abuse against children,” adding that children can only be hired when there is prior permission of the labor ministry and under the premise that it doesn’t affect their schooling, however “there are many informal cultural issues that lead to the abuses of children in child labor, labor in degrading forms which we want to eradicate.”

The executive director of the Colombian Chamber of Mining, Cesar Diaz maintained that none of the legal mining companies employed minors and that the signing of the pact  “was not to see the children exploited in the mines, but that we want to have them in the classrooms to complete their studies.”

The signing of the agreement also seeks to reduce youth unemployment, and especially to seek training and employment in legally constituted companies in the mining sector.

According to Diaz Chile and Peru have a great shortage of skilled labor in the mining sector and workers are imported from other countries to meet the demands, training as provided by the agreement should ensure that this doesn’t happen in Colombia, said the director.

Diaz said that the mining is one of the main cogs in the country’s economy and that in the next few years around 100,000 employees will be needed, made up of 20,000 direct and 80,000 indirect jobs.

Pardo announced that the policies for the promotion of youth employment in the mining sector will be under the scrutiny of the Youth Employment Committee, created as a watchdog for companies employing youths.

From Colombia Reports

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